Baking Fundamentals: Bread Making Tips for Beginners

I have been baking bread a lot recently, yes I am a lockdown cliche, but it’s for practical reasons. We eat bread for lunch most days and as a family of 5 we get through a lot of it. We are currently going to the supermarket once a week or less and even though we buy 2 loaves while we are there we run out after a few days. The obvious solution was to make my own bread. I need my baking to be successful or I will have to make alternative lunch plans with hungry children at my ankles so I’ve quickly found some reliable bread recipes and learnt some bread baking basics, the fundamental facts that make bread baking more successful. 

A crusty fresh no knead bread on a cooling rack is one of the tips for bread making for beginners.
Baking bread is easy with these tips

Tips and Secrets For Great Home Made Bread For Beginners

Easy and Reliable Bread Recipes

There are so many bread recipes it can be a little overwhelming to know which ones to try so I am sharing 2 I love:

My family adore this no knead recipe from Le Coin De Mel fresh from the oven. I mix it up the night before using plain flour and we have warm crusty bread for lunch the next day.  It uses a really small amount of yeast and plain flour which is helpful when baking supplies are difficult to find or running low.

Hitchins' Kitchen pointed me towards this easy white pitta recipe from BBC Good Food. I like it because you only need to let it rise once (for about an hour) and then they are really quick to cook. We cook them in 2 batches to fit them in the oven and each batch takes about 4 minutes. The tip to making sure your pitta puff up and create a pocket is for the baking sheet (affiliate link) to be really hot before you put the pittas on it. I have made this recipe with 2/3s wholemeal flour and 1/3 white flour as well just white flour which worked great too.

What You Need To Know About Baking Bread - The Fundamentals of Bread Baking

Baking bread doesn’t need to be complicated and you can make it with just 4 ingredients: yeast, flour, salt and water. It’s the yeast which makes the bread rise and it needs to be given a chance to do this before baking. Most breads are kneaded then left to rise (at least once). The variations in quantity of the main ingredients and anything else added makes the texture and flavour of the bread vary. 

Ingredients For Bread Making

There are lots of different types of flour and they all behave slightly differently so while you can switch one type for another in a recipe you might get unexpected results. Stick to the ingredients suggested first and then maybe experiment next time (Oh Mummy Mia says the best bread she made was one containing jumbo oats.)

What is the difference between plain flour and strong (bread) flour?

Most bread recipes suggest you use strong flour, but it’s not essential. Strong flour contains higher levels of protein which produces more gluten. The gluten helps the bread stretch more so the loaves can have a better rise and it gives bread the expected chewy texture. The importance of gluten in baking is why some gluten free flours are better than others for bread. If you use plain flour in a recipe that suggests strong bread flour you may need to leave it longer to rise and the bread texture will be more crumbly. 

Dry Yeast or Fresh Yeast for Baking Bread?

You can use either dry or fresh yeast when baking bread, but the dry yeast is concentrated so if you switch one for the other make sure you check the conversion ratio required. Dry yeast tends to be cheaper and has a longer shelf life making it more convenient, but All About A Mummy says fresh yeast makes the bread taste nicer, she suggests dividing fresh yeast into individual portions and freezing what you don't need straight away. 

The absolute key thing about yeast is that it is still active or your bread wont rise. If you are worried about if your yeast is still in date then you can mix it up with warm (not hot) water and leave it for 5 minutes before using. You should see signs of life eg bubbles on the surface. Chammy IRL has been caught out by yeast that is out of date before and ended up with flat dough. Casa Costello advises salt can kill yeast so make sure you mix salt in well before adding your yeast to the dry ingredients. Paul Hollywood suggests adding yeast on one side of the bowl and salt on the other.

Why Do Some Bread Recipes Add Oil or Fat To Bread?

While it’s not a key ingredient for basic bread adding a form of fat to the dough can result in a softer bread and one that stays fresher slightly longer. Fat can also add to the flavour of bread and a variety of types are used including: butter, olive oil and shortening.

Sourdough Starters

An alternative to shop bought yeast is a sourdough starter. This is a fermented dough which has wild yeast, it takes about a week to make at home before it is ready to use. You use some of it each time you bake and it needs “feeding” regularly to keep it going, but it saves the need for buying yeast. There are various recipes for making a sourdough starter so have a search for the ones which looks good for you. Sourdough breads have a distinctive slightly sour taste.

How Much Water Do You Need For Bread?

I asked some friends if you need more water in a recipe if you replace white flour with wholemeal and they all insisted it wasn't a simple question and the the amount of water varies all the time. How much water you need to add to dough will vary depending on the type of flour, how dry it is and air humidity. So if you feel your dough is a bit dry it may well be and you can try adding a bit more water. If your dough feels a bit wet when you turn it out you might want to knead it a bit before adding more flour because as you knead it the flour takes on more water and becomes less sticky. 

A row of soft white home made bread rolls on a cooling rack created after learning fundamental bread baking tips for beginners.
Soft bread rolls created after experimenting, recipe to follow

The Bread Making Process

Kneading Dough

I find kneading dough relaxing and I like that you can see the appearance and texture of the dough change as you repeatedly work it on a surface. Gemma from Mummy's Waisted advised that the longer you knead dough the tighter the crumb is so something like focaccia with lots of air bubbles doesn't need as long as a loaf. If you are using plain flour there is a risk you can over work it, but strong flour is more forgiving. Navigating Baby suggests that you can tell when dough is ready because if you cut a chunk off it should stretch thin, but not rip.

Alternative Options If You Struggle To Knead Bread By Hand

Whether you struggle to knead bread due to time or physical restrictions there are other options. You can use no-knead recipes (like the one linked to above) or you can use a machine: some food mixers have kneading hooks or you can use a breadmaker. Breadmakers are great because they will knead the dough and provide a warm environment to help the dough rise faster. You can then choose to take the dough out and finish it in the oven, KatyKicker makes cheap pizza dough in the breadmaker before using a rolling pin to roll it out. 

How Long Does Bread Dough Take To Rise?

How long you need to leave your dough depends on the ingredients and the ambient temperature. Dough will rise fine at room temperature, but you can make bread rise faster by placing it somewhere warm (My Boys Club covers her dough and leaves it outside on sunny days). Some people claim a slower rise will make a better flavoured bread, but convenience is more important to me. You want the dough to at least double in size before moving on to the next step, depending on the type of flour and if fat is used it may rise more than that before it starts to collapse on its self, but double is the minimum you are looking for.
Most recipes will suggest some form of knocking back to get the air out of it before shaping and proving (being allowed to rise a bit more). It is ready to be cooked when the dough bounces back if you prod it slightly.

Baking Bread Tips

Most bread recipes require bread to be baked at a high temperature, although Peak District Kids says you can bake bread in a slow cooker, making sure to turn it half way through so you don't end up with a thick crust on the bottom and a doughy top. How long you bake bread for will depend on the size of the loaf or roll with larger ones obviously taking longer. When bread is cooked you are looking for it to be a golden colour. You can check your bread is cooked properly by giving it a knock on the bottom and you should hear a hollow sound.

Interestingly if you want a thin crispy crust you should put a tray of water in the bottom of your oven while cooking because the steam makes the bread crunchier (thanks to Twinderelmo for that tip).

Try and let the bread cool first if it is going to be sliced, otherwise tearing can be better than cutting because the bread doesn't get squashed.

Keeping Bread Fresh

Homemade bread doesn’t last very long, and not just because it tastes so good. The fresh bread doesn’t have the preservatives the shops use so it will taste best the same day. If your bread is crusty then you can wrap it loosely in a clean tea towel before placing in a bread bin, soft crust rolls are best kept in air tight containers (at room temperature). If the bread contains fat they last a little longer (maybe 2 to 3 days)

If you like having freshly baked bread at home, why not consider taking an apprenticeship in baking to learn plenty of delicious recipes that you can amaze your friends and family with? If you are just starting out on your bread making adventure I hope you find these tips helpful, I would love to see what you bake, why not tag me (@EssexKate) on Instagram?

Bread Making for Beginners: tips for better bread making and a crusty loaf image
Why not save me on Pinterest for next time you plan to make bread?

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